SPRING 2007

 

SPRING 2007 FULL ISSUE

bETRAYALS OF TRUST

By PAUL KOBERSTEIN

In 1855 the Columbia River Indian tribes began leaving their traditional fishing grounds, moving upland from Chee-wan-a, or Big  Water, one of the names given for the Columbia. In treaties they had ceded much of their land to the federal government, but had reserved the right to fish for salmon at all their customary places.  

Decades of mismanagement by federal agencies nearly destroyed the salmon. At times tribes fought each other over the diminishing resource. But today these tribes are united in an epic defense of their salmon, culture and economy that IS being crushed by the Bonneville Power  Administration, the Bush administration, the power industry, and  the Columbia's massive hydroelectric system.  

Their prime tribal fishing place was Celilo Falls, 10 miles east of The Dalles. But 50 years ago on March 10, 1957, rising waters behind brand-new The Dalles Dam submerged the falls, an event that is being remembered  this year in solemn ceremonies along the river's banks by the residents of Celilo Village and the Yakama, Nez Perce, Umatilla and Warm Springs tribes who had reserved treaty rights to fish there.  

Before the arrival of settlers, Celilo produced more fish than any other aboriginal fishing site in the world, at a time when the Columbia produced more salmon than  any other river in the world. Today the world's largest hydropower system entombs the falls and countless other ancient fishing sites along the river. Some tribal members look forward to the day when their descendants can return to Celilo Falls. Others say the ghosts of the ancient fishing grounds should remain undisturbed.

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Paul Koberstein